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5 Minutes with… Claire Waring



R/GA Australia’s ECD tells LBB’s Esther Faith Lew why the convergence of the digital and physical worlds strengthens creative collaboration

 5 Minutes with… Claire Waring

Claire’s humility understates the grand plan fate had in store. She will tell you her career “sort of morphed into advertising”. It may have been a meandering path in the early beginnings, but inspired by her love for art and technology. I would say that both passions were built-in radars that ultimately led her to fulfill, as she says, her “agency crush on R/GA”. No surprise there, considering the agency’s reputation as a front-runner in technology and innovation, with a strong creative foundation. 

Her “love of discovering, bending and shaping what tech can do” came at an early age, when her dad, a mainframe programmer, often brought home pirated games for her to figure out and play with. “Design seemed to be the place where I could bring art and tech together, so I studied visual communications at the university. Then, I started out designing gaming interfaces, websites, and those weird things called CD-ROMS,” says Claire. 

As Claire gained practical experience, she was drawn into the marketing side of things where her strength in harnessing big ideas and visions caught the attention of big agencies. “I was picked up in London as an art director and went on to create digital and integrated campaigns for the likes of Havas, TBWA, and Saatchi & Saatchi. I fell in love with brands, creativity, and really connecting with people, with ideas brought to life through technology.”

Creativity for Claire is about “connecting the dots in new, unexpected ways”, and, as ECD, she endeavours to bring about collaboration in everything she does. “Great work doesn't happen in a vacuum with a single hero. The diversity of thought that comes from people coming to the table with different backgrounds, views, experience and skills always makes the work better,” says Claire. 

Claire is also guided by a work philosophy that elevates humanity to the heart of creative work. She says, “Our work is for people and it's by people. We don't have a production line that manufactures products, our talent – their incredible minds – are everything we have to offer the world, and so I believe they have to come first.”

She is also an experimental creative who had lived for two years in Copenhagen just to study interiors in order to understand spatial design and how people move and respond to physical surroundings. “We’ve landed a couple of big opportunities this year that allow us to play with AR,” she shares with enthusiasm.

Humanity, and the beauty and fullness of experience that life offers along with it, are all the soul food that Claire needs to feed her creativity. Well, that, and the art world, which takes Claire into a unique space where her talents take shape “in the convergence of the digital and physical worlds”. 

LBB> You joined R/GA Australia last year at a time when both Sydney and Melbourne offices were going through a transformative growth spurt. What was it like and how did that lend traction to your creative direction?

Claire> I’ve always had an agency crush on R/GA. The momentum that had begun as I joined was incredibly inspiring and also intimidating, if I’m honest.

We were all in lockdown for my first few months in the role and getting traction in creative direction over Zoom was tough, but the talent, dedication, and support of Seamus Higgins (our former regional CCO) and the team was second to none. The taste of success created an energy and hunger to do more, so, despite never having met them in person, we got stuck in. It was a real now-or-never moment for me and one that was made possible by that momentum. 

We won a major pitch in those first three months, and the success is continuing to build – we’ve more than doubled the size of our creative team.

LBB> As someone who expertly navigates the intersection of brand, experience and technology, how have you been able to synergise these key pillars at R/GA?

Claire> The history of playing at those intersections, constantly evolving with people and tech, has long been inspiring. In our creative team, it’s manifested into pushing the edges of possibility in everything we do – storytelling beyond broadcast; connecting brand and experience; designing for a more human future. These things could not be more aligned to my passion for bringing insight, imagination, and tech together. 

I’ve always been a believer in meeting people where they are and increasingly that’s on digital platforms or out in the world with a device in hand. Playing at the intersections opens us up to finding new ways to connect customers with brands and, most importantly, creating something of value for everyone involved. 

LBB> How different are the projects undertaken at R/GA considering its USP of having studio production, marketing consultancy, creative work, and digital innovation under one roof? 

Claire> The beauty of having such diverse skills, and people, under one roof means that we're able to solve a problem in a myriad of ways. That might result in a campaign like Reddit’s Find Your People or building a new brand from culture-up with an identity and music video as we did for A-Leagues. It might be using augmented reality to create a diverse retail experience like Nike For Every Body or a customer relationship programme like Toyota Gazoo Racing Club. It also could be using machine learning to remove the bias in surfing as we did for Google Huey or a new platform dedicated to inspiring, equipping and empowering Indigenous youth to succeed like We Are Warriors. 

While the range of executions is vast, and the possibilities endless, the intent remains the same – to create a more human future. It’s made possible by the collaboration across teams and venture partners in Australia, and globally, we can genuinely tap into a wealth of talent and experience.

LBB> What’s your process and methodology for approaching a client brief and in campaign development?

Claire> Firstly, digging into what it is we're really trying to solve. Then, it's meeting people where they are in place, culture and needs to connect with them. We ask ourselves: “Who are they, really?” “What do we want them to feel and do?” And most importantly: “Why will they care about our work?” “What are we giving people in exchange for their time and attention?” “Is our work brave, bold and useful enough to move the needle for our clients?”

I’m not a fan of the waterfall approach to briefs – one department throwing it over the fence to the next. I believe the key to playing at the intersections is a culture of collaboration. We bring people together early and often to solve briefs, where strategy and creative jam with tech, experience and data throughout the process. That diversity of thought, questioning, and pushing makes the work stronger. 

LBB> What are the trends you have noticed in client briefs and in expectations for campaigns?

Claire> How to connect with Gen Z. It's the number one question we're seeing in briefs.

They don’t play by broadcast rules. One-way conversations don’t resonate and a two-way conversation isn't cutting it either. They want to participate, to co-create with brands. They want to be involved. This is tough for brands and marketers who have always used traditional channels and want to have complete control, but I'm seeing more bravery in this area which is really exciting. It is opening briefs up from what was a 30-second spot with OOH to asking “how can we connect with this audience?”

LBB> What are the most common misconceptions about digital application in campaigns? What irks you the most and what would you like to change?

Claire> Approaching digital as a broadcast channel; there is so much more that could engage an audience. It drives me crazy, but it's the way we treat every new medium. With Web 1.0, we turned the internet into a giant digital brochure for brands because that was familiar. Now with Web 3.0, we see NFTs as pixel art and assume it’s all about ownership as the physical art world has been for centuries. There is so much more value in community, belonging, and access with NFTs than our assumption that it’s about collectability. 

So the thing that we need to get past, that irks me I guess, is limiting ourselves to what we know is safe in digital. Failing to push past the obvious. 

I think that Web 3 technology offers the biggest digital creative opportunity we've seen since flash was killed. Yes, flash needed to die to allow for the leaps and bounds in experience design that we’ve seen. But with it died the experimentation and the possibility of immersive, highly interactive web-based experiences. The ability not just to tell a story, but to put someone in the centre of the story and make them an integral part of the narrative. To augment our experience of the real world with a layer of digital that makes it even more magical. Once we get past simply replicating the real world in digital, with brochure ware and virtual storefronts, that’s when we’ll get to the really interesting experiences. 

LBB> Reddit’s Find your people campaign was the platform’s first consumer marketing campaign in Australia. How did R/GA approach its creative and strategic development? 

Claire> At its core, the brilliant global campaign "Find your people" – developed by our California office – is about human connection. Reddit is where people are REAL – where people congregate to share and gain honest perspectives from other passionate, informed people from all over the world. But some Australians still think of it as an American platform, unaware that there are so many thriving local communities and conversations on the platform. We set out to demonstrate relevance in this market by telling micro stories of culture and everyday life in Australia through the lens of Reddit’s thriving local Australian communities. Let's face it, life here in Australia can get pretty weird. You can get dive bombed by a magpie on your way to work; get robbed for a lettuce; and mistake a fish for a haircut (mullets). All of this and so much more is being discussed on Reddit every day and we wanted to bring that to life.

LBB> How did your understanding of Australian Reddit users shape campaign engagement and impact its outcomes?

Claire> One of the many unique attributes of Reddit is that it’s less about who you are and more about what you’re into. As a result, the platform attracts people from all walks of life. This wealth of humanity creates a huge range of intelligent, hilarious, and heart-warming content that has been the inspiration for this campaign. The team spent countless hours exploring the platform looking for ways to bring together the most active communities and UGC (most of the imagery is from the platform) to build the campaign that truly showcases the depth and breadth of the platform, from the hilarious to the heartwarming, to demonstrate that there really is something for everyone. 

It wasn't just about telling stories that would resonate with Aussies, but also identifying stories that would resonate at particular moments, such as being in the gym, the office, or even waiting for a bus. We didn't just want to raise awareness with this campaign; we wanted people to jump straight into the platform to literally find their people. 

The bus shelter is my favourite execution for that. It's a moment where people have time on their hands, so we created a piece with hundreds of QR codes tailored to the edgy suburb of Newtown, that linked back to relevant Reddit communities to encourage people to dive in and discover. Reddit communities provide an instant connection from the real world into a world of shared interest, be that r/vegan, r/animeart, r/dramatichouseplants, r/piercing or the ever popular r/whatcouldgowrong.

The campaign is still in market so far and has generated a lot of buzz within the community.

LBB> What is the most significant campaign for you and why?

Claire> Well, it's yet to come. Society is demanding more humanity from brands and gender equality is high on my agenda. Last year, we relaunched the A-Leagues brand with the biggest change a sporting code has seen in Australia. We united the men's A- and Women's W-League under one gender neutral banner "The A-Leagues". A world where men are the A code and women play underneath? No. It was a momentous shift that our client fully embraced from the outset, and one we're taking to the next level for 2022/23. Watch this space…

I'm also hugely inspired by the work that my colleague, Ben Miles kicked off with We Are Warriors – raising First Nations youth up in Australia is so important.

LBB> What is the most successful campaign for you and why?

Claire> I once created a movie website for The Golden Compass, a film based on Philip Pullman’s Dark Materials series of books. It tapped into the innate desire of fans to put themselves into the world of the books and encouraged them to do that through defining and sharing on social who they would be in that world via an interactive tool. It spread like widlfire between fans and beyond until the website reached the largest number of hits ever seen for a movie website, with the exception of Star Wars. It didn’t get entered into awards but the sheer effectiveness, overwhelming gratitude of fans and delight of our client, New Line Cinema, was more than enough for me. 

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R/GA Sydney, Wed, 14 Sep 2022 07:57:44 GMT